HC Deb 16 October 2003 vol 411 cc250-2
7. Mr. George Osborne (Tatton)

How many events he has attended as part of the Government's euro information campaign launched in June. [132062]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Ruth Kelly)

Ministers, including my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, have held a variety of meetings to discuss the euro in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In addition, Treasury officials have held more than 150 meetings with opinion formers in Britain and Europe since the Chancellor's statement on 9 June.

Mr. Osborne

I am glad to see that the Minister now keeps the Chancellor's diary. She will know, as everyone knows, that the Chancellor of the Exchequer won his battle with the Prime Minister and that there will not be a euro referendum before the general election. Does she think that the Chancellor could be more magnanimous in victory and go along with the charade of the roadshow, at least to save the Prime Minister's face?

Ruth Kelly

I feel, perhaps, that I need to reassure the hon. Gentleman, who takes a great interest in these matters. The euro has, indeed, been discussed at every level in the Treasury. I emphasise again that more than 150 meetings have been held throughout Europe and throughout Britain—in every country in Britain.

Mr. Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield)

Does my hon. Friend agree that the preparation for the euro is no joking matter? It is a serious enterprise that affects the whole of our economy and our future. Would she comment on the fact not only that we need a euro information campaign throughout the country, but that it would be nice if the official Opposition joined the cross-party group on the euro?

Ruth Kelly

My hon. Friend makes an important point. We have a euro preparations committee, which is open to parties across the House, and there is one political party that refuses to join.

Mr. Osborne

Are you a member?

Ruth Kelly

Of course I am. The Government have the right policy—to prepare and decide. That is what we will do. The Tory policy is to deprive the British people of the opportunity to join, whether or not it is in the national economic interest to do so. They say "No, never," dogmatically. Ours is the commonsense position—prepare and decide.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden)

Can the Minister confirm that if any country that is already a member of the euro were to apply the five tests that the Chancellor applies and find that the euro was not in its national interest, as would appear to be the case from some of the statistics that he has given, there is absolutely nothing that that country could do about it? In the course of the Minister's education campaign, does she spell out the fact that membership is irrevocable?

Ruth Kelly

We have, of course, emphasised the strategic importance of decisions on the euro, which is why we are committed to a triple lock on the euro decision—a vote in Cabinet, a vote in Parliament and a referendum of the British people. The quality of the analysis that the Treasury undertook in its assessment of the five national economic tests to see whether it is in Britain's national interest to join was widely commended throughout Europe whenever it was presented.

John Cryer (Hornchurch)

Can my hon. Friend remind the House of who signed us up to the charter of economic euro-fundamentalism in the first place?

Ruth Kelly

My hon. Friend is, I think, referring to the Maastricht treaty. It is clear to everyone in the House who signed the Maastricht treaty. [HON. MEMBERS: "We had an opt-out."] We have the correct policy on the euro. If it is in our national British economic interest to join, we shall do so.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

I hope that when the Minister next comes to the Dispatch Box, she will answer the question put to her by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley). Perhaps she can tell us, too, whether all the internal discussions in the Treasury to which she referred were included in the diary items that she listed in her first response. Is it not the case that the Prime Minister told the House that as part of the roadshow, there have been 60 visits from Foreign Office Ministers, but No. 10 said that none involved him and that none was planned; the Treasury said there were too many events to list but that they had all been low-key, that there was no specific start date and that it could not identify any of them; the Foreign Office said the events had not even started, and the Minister for Europe said that it was never meant to be a literal roadshow—it was all just a figure of speech? Have not these conflicting statements on the roadshow degenerated into total farce, and is it not impossible for the Minister to clear the matter up, whatever she says?

Ruth Kelly

I find it extraordinary that the right hon. and learned Gentleman can talk about the diary commitments of Treasury Ministers, when I have made it plain to the House that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor has had meetings with business leaders, industry and unions. He has been discussing the euro, and Treasury officials have had well over 150 meetings across the country and across Europe.

Dr. Phyllis Starkey (Milton Keynes, South-West)

Given the indications that, since the introduction of the euro, trade between countries within the eurozone has increased, is it not even more important that British businesses be well informed about the euro and its consequences for them, if we are to maintain our share of European markets and the jobs in Britain that depend on then?

Ruth Kelly

My hon. Friend makes an important point. British trade has increased, which is why the impact on investment, foreign investment, jobs and prosperity are key to our assessment of the five economic tests. It is also why we have a euro information campaign, and why we have set up standing committees not only in England, but in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so that business, industry, the unions and all other key stakeholders in the process will be fully engaged and informed, as necessary.